interlinked: how mourning and joy are closer than we think

interlinked - how mourning and joy are closer than we think - girl dancing in sunlight @poetryjoy.com

“For everything there is a season. . . . a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” — Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 NRSV

Interlinked

We mourn,
thinking we might never
rediscover joy, never
laugh or dance again,

but we are wrong
because they are all
interlinked, entwined

parts of one another,
shared segments
of our soul’s deepest needs.

While we weep
we also prepare
to dance, to feast,

although it doesn’t
necessarily cross our minds
that one could follow on,
like day follows night,

or be the shadow of the other
as we try to hold these
disparate thoughts together.

Even here,
even now, when grief needs
closure, there are glimmers,

conjoined glimpses of hope
which support and enable
us to look up,

to go on with courage,
because a slight lifting
of lockdown might signal
a slow return to peace.
(C) joylenton

interlinked - woman watching the waves - poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Once we return to a semblance of normality in our nations, our “ordinary” might feel scarily different but it will have a fresh lustre and glow of grace about it too. Because we are limited in what we can do now, we appreciate the joyful, sacrosanct and sacred moments that exist and long to keep them fixed in our hearts.

“Mourning and dancing, grief and laughter, sadness and gladness—they belong together as the sad-faced clown and the happy-faced clown, who make us both cry and laugh. Let’s trust that the beauty of our lives becomes visible where mourning and dancing touch each other.” — Henri Nouwen, in Faith That Matters: 365 Devotions from Classic Christian Leaders

Maybe we will dance in our hearts or gardens, if not in the streets. Like a butterfly being joyfully released to fly freely, instead of being restrained and shut away, confined to a limited environment, mourning the freedom it has lost.

A lingering sadness and wariness will exist because so much has changed, so many lives have been cut painfully short, so many of us are in a prolonged recovery mode. We will need faith and trust to carry us through the days of difference that lie ahead.

“I have told you all this so that you will have peace of heart and mind. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows; but cheer up, for I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33 TLB

Where are you seeing glimpses of joy during these unsettled times? What makes your heart sing or helps keep you comforted and calm? 🙂 ❤

calm: practising gratitude during the pandemic

What if we refused to join in with the grumbles, moans and complaints on the internet and other place during the pandemic, even in our own homes, perhaps? We could choose to keep calm, encourage others, and speak of hope, faith and love in adverse circumstances.

How can we best support our souls during these stressful and strange Covid-19 days? Maybe by enjoying the little things: feed our faith, practise gratitude, aim to savour extra time with our loved ones, rest for our health’s sake, maintain our creativity, and withdraw from information overload and overwhelm.

We can pray for family and friends,  health care workers and governments, as well as the world situation in general. Another thing that might help keep us sane, especially if we can’t exercise, is stepping outside now and then for a slow, 30 seconds or more, fresh air inhale/exhale.

Because nature has healing powers. Yes, even if our garden or balcony growing space is a tiny or weed-ridden plot! 🙂 Size doesn’t matter. What counts is seeing living greenery.

Creation’s calming beauty helps soothe our frazzled souls, and opens our hearts to the simple gratitude of being alive. I always appreciate rare days when I can get outside for a while because enjoying the little things counts.

converse - landscape - hills - sky - sunset - Creation's calming beauty helps soothe our frazzled souls quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Life in the time of the coronavirus

I hear the flaxen-haired toddler
from two doors away
chattering nineteen to the dozen

as I peg light laundry to line, with sun
warming my arms for the very first time
this year, this spring, in a sudden
burst of seasonal heat.

She is running, running, running
the length of her small garden
and back again, as if her tiny feet

don’t know how to stop
their forward momentum, their racing
along to an inner beat.

We’re meant to be avoiding others
as our country struggles
with the coronavirus and its effects,
and I think we are far enough apart

even though I can just make out
the top of her hurrying head
across our low garden walls.

Her parents smile up at me and speak
in their broken English, nuanced
as it is with a Polish dialect,

while I reply and smile at them
and watch their delightful
little daughter running again.

Such sacred holy ordinary moments
still exist but we have to make
a deliberate effort

to notice them and let our anxieties
slip, as we converse at a distance
with the international language
of hope and joy and love and peace.
© joylenton

calm - woman looking out a window -practising gratitude during the pandemic (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Gratitude helps us appreciate all our days, whatever they might bring to us. Because the altitude of our hearts determines the attitude we will have.

If we’re able to live more in the moment, then we can welcome it, whether outwardly good or bad, as we seek to live with our eyes open to the potential it might bring.

You might benefit from these 10 soul care suggestions for maintaining calm. Brother David Stendl-Rast also offers a glimpse of how we can be gratefully mindful for each new day.

What’s helping you feel more like a human being and less like a potential repository for a horribly invasive virus? What’s aiding you to stay calm and keeps you on an even keel in these shaky, uncertain times? Do share below so we can help one another.

window: finding an opening for joy to flourish

window - blinds - sunset - trees - what your longings and feelings might be saying to you - (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Joy is a bit thin on the ground at the moment, isn’t it? So many of us are feeling overwhelmed by individual and collective sadness and grief, with longings for change going unmet and unaddressed.

It’s like the whole world is in a state of mourning and we don’t know how to get through it or where to find joy anymore. Or maybe we do. Perhaps joy is much closer to home than we anticipate.

Indoors with our loved ones, or just outside our window, perhaps, even if we can’t see a great deal because it resembles a concrete jungle. You may be wondering: What kind of joy can those things bring to me?

More than you might think, my friend. Due to decades of being housebound by chronic illness, and suffering episodes of depression, I try to discover any window, any opening to joy I can find.

I seek to focus on my heart’s longing for joy and what encourages it to flourish, which means looking at the simple, small, and often overlooked. And it includes developing a deeper gratitude for my loved ones.

window - wildflowers - I seek to focus on my heart's longing for joy quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Longings

Window watcher that I am,
let my gaze linger with sacred awe
longer than before,

to truly see each tree
and flower and leaf as portents
of hope and promise.

I want to drain
the last ounce of joy I find
in every day,

drink the cup dry of it,
keep memories as dregs.

I long to hold
the wonder found right here
and right now,

like a fragile butterfly,
let it loose to climb the sky.

I seek to find
the holy ordinary
in people, trees

and leaves, clouds, fiery sunsets,
in everything light reflects.

I desire to dream
with intentionality,

let purpose unfold
like a story I have known,
full of hope beyond this world.

I yearn to touch
earthly things stamped with grace,

trace God’s footprints,
sense them moving in my soul,
where I will never grow old.
© joylenton

window - butterfly - longings poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

The view outside my window is far from scenic, but I do take pleasure in watching sky changing colour, seeing variable shape and type of clouds, noting emergence of greening tips and flowers on plants or observing a solitary tree as its leaves alter with the seasons.

Even a concrete wall can be interesting because it attract insects, has different patterns of stone within it or changes shade, depending on where the light falls and catches it.

Having chronic illness has taught me not to despise the tiny, mundane things of life. Whether in lockdown or not, it helps to appreciate the blessings before us rather than dwell on what we’ve lost.

Your longings are a window into your soul too. What are you longing for, my friend? Where are you experiencing your longings being met in these challenging times? May the joy of the Lord be our strength today, and always.

PS: This post was inspired by Chronic Joy Ministry’s Poetry Prompt: Windows and TreesDo check out their great resources! 🙂 ❤

window - longings - solo poppy - wooden fence - having chronic illness quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

shift: adjusting to a new normality

We might be tempted to think that there wasn’t too big a shift in the atmosphere and that life went on pretty much as normal for the ordinary citizens who lived at the time of the resurrection of Christ. But what if it didn’t? What if nothing ever felt quite the same afterwards?

Such a cataclysmic event was earth and world shattering in its effects. The news about it spread over the whole known world. The story of the resurrection got shared year after year, retold with wonder, speculation and awe to future generations. And it still is.

Because God’s evident, sacrificial love for us and the hope it brings to human hearts has spread faster than any virus can, multiplying exponentially nation to nation.

It affects everyday people from every stratum in society, turning humdrum lives upside down in the process. The message the resurrection imparts brings us deep rest when all else is unsettled and shaken, including our emotions.

So let’s consider how one ordinary person, just like you and me, might have reacted to the resurrection, to this shift in their expectations and experience, followed by an adjustment to a new normality.

“At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.” ― Matthew 27:51-53 NLT

A shift

There’s a shift
where identity used to sit
like an old cardigan,

well-worn, moth-eaten
but familiar
because it became part
of me, what I always wore.

Now I don’t know what fits
me anymore
or suits the woman

I have become
since the earth shook, since Sunday
and a man took
on death to set us free.

Tombs broke open
and people were raised
to life again
like they had never died,

restored to their
loved ones, their families
as if they’d
never left them bereft.

And it is whispered
that this world
is just a stepping stone
to somewhere
better, a place of beauty

where we can sit
and think and dream and breathe
and bask in who we are,
who we were created to be.
© joylenton

shift - envisioning eternity - shift poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

God Himself changes not. He is totally dependable and faithful to His Word. His promises can be relied upon. God doesn’t shift like the wind, alter with circumstance or sway from continually pouring out His love, mercy and grace for us. 

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” ― Isaiah 54:10 NIV 

Whatever fears or uncertainties might be shaking your world right now, my friend, remember the unshakeable power of God to rescue and save us. He is the still, calm centre of every storm we encounter, and our souls’ peace, always. In the valley of the shadows, God is with us and fighting for us as the core strength of our hurting hearts. 

lift: for those times when you need to be carried

Give me the Love that leads the way, Faith that nothing can dismay, Hope no disappointments tire, Passion that’ll burn like fire, Let me not sink to be a clod, Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God. ― Amy Carmichael

News alerts and alarms are the hallmarks of our hours. We’re struggling not to drown in discouragement, anxiety, sadness and grief. We’re in the grip of a deadly virus and a state of soul overwhelm. Our flesh is weak. Our hearts quake.

Our minds spiral into worse case scenarios. It’s hard to relax and get a grip when the world feels so out of control, isn’t it? How can we stay stable in this storm? Who can lift us up and keep us safe? Our God can and He will. Nothing is too difficult for Him.

God carries us when we sink low and cannot carry ourselves. He lifts us up when we stumble and fall. He infuses strength into failing bodies and hearts. Let us look to the Lord to lift us up and hold us close, like the loving Father He is, full of compassion and love.

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” ― Isaiah 58: 11 NIV

lift - father and child - Let us look to the Lord to lift us up quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Being lifted up

Are you feeling crushed,
dear hurting soul?
Do you feel discouraged and sit
with your head bowed low?

Take heart, dear one, for hope
is here and help will come.
Your tears are not unseen
but are caught lovingly.

They are held in the heart
of a compassionate God
who cries, gives grace,
and feels and aches with us.

You, too, are being upheld
by his power and by his love
as he carries you
when you’ve had enough.

When you can’t go on
and feel far from strong,
fear not, my friend, because
this is not the end.

God will comfort you
as only he can, and cradle you
close until you can walk
with confidence again.

All who fall are not despised
but are souls to save, to hold,
heal and make strong once more
in our merciful Father’s eyes.

You will learn to breathe and rise
above your current woes and pain,
while you lean on the One who suffers
alongside us with our wounded feelings.

He opens his hands,
seeking to satisfy your needs,
every good desire of the human
heart is fully met by him.

So do not despair, my friend,
as you mourn a significant loss
or the pathway you knew before is gone
because God stands ready to lift you up.
© joylenton

lift - being lifted up - sad girl in a forest - Are you feeling crushed poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

“The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.” — Psalm 145:14-15 NIV

Friends, in these demanding days, let us acknowledge our weakness and frailty and ask God to carry us when we’re unable to go on without His help. He stands ever willing to lift us up, give us Hope, and fill us with His compassionate love.

antidote: how God’s perfect love helps cast out fear

antidote - sos - love as the remedy for our beleaguered souls @poetryjoy.com

Hello Dear Friends, we are living in strange times, aren’t we? Nothing feels as safely familiar as before because we’re all having to adjust to a new “normal” as we adapt to living with the threat of the coronavirus and its worldwide impact for ourselves and our nations.

It’s a new, unstructured way of living we’re not accustomed to, and don’t care to experience for long. We’re having to be imaginative and proactive to help conquer our fears because this virus casts a weighty shadow over everything, especially with alarmist news reports.

So how do we cope when the life we knew before alters by the day? To assist with lessening anxiety, it helps to focus on the positive, and on what we can do rather than what we can’t. These things are helping me: praying, breathing deeply and slowly, meditating, exercising gratitude, resting, and keeping a sense of perspective.

I’m also looking to God as my major means of soul help and support. God’s love is the antidote to fear and the answer to all inner restlessness and dis-ease. It’s the healing balm we need to comfort our sad and sorrowing souls. It’s the anchor of our lives, the compass of Hope our hearts long for.

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us….There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” — 1 John 4:18 The Message

antidote - virus - hearts - God's love is the antidote quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

God’s love provides the safety valve and soul exhale we need in swirling seas of uncertainty. It’s freely given, available to all, and abundantly nourishing for our souls. God’s love triggers remembrance of His faithfulness to us in the past and His sustaining grace available for us now.

Antidote

As the days segue into sameness
yet feel strangely unfamiliar to us,
can you see, can you believe
that what nourishes and sustains
us, deep in our souls, is holy love?

It is the antidote we seek,
the destroyer of anxiety, fear
and hate, the balm for every
chaotic change, every virus
that eats its way into our hearts.

Love came to earth in the shape
of an infant boy’s messy birth,
crying out for us to see his worth
while we open our arms, our eyes,
our minds and hearts to his love.

It calls us now to pay attention
and to fix our eyes more on its
solution to sin and sickness, to all
dis-ease of the human heart,
rather than allowing fear to build up.

If we can lift our heads and listen
to the sound of love seeping through
the filter of our souls, we might find
a different kind of focus taking place
as we surrender to peace and grace.
© joylenton

Antidote poem (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Do let me know how you are managing. I’m praying for all my readers and friends. You might like to check out my timely book Embracing Hope: Soul Food to Help Chase Away the Blues which is free on Kindle today. May God bless you and meet all your needs as He surrounds you with His all-encompassing care, comfort, protection and love. ❤

oak: for when you want to mimic a tree

“Think of the self that God has given as an acorn. It is a marvelous little thing, a perfect shape, perfectly designed for its purpose, perfectly functional. Think of the grand glory of an oak tree. God’s intention when He made the acorn was the oak tree. His intention for us is ‘… the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’ Many deaths must go into our reaching that measure, many letting-goes. When you look at the oak tree, you don’t feel that the loss’ of the acorn is a very great loss. The more you perceive God’s purpose in your life, the less terrible the losses seem.” ― Elisabeth Elliot

When we feel burdened, weary and depleted in body, mind or spirit, it can produce a kind of dull lethargy inside. Then, as we listen to what it has to say to us, we gradually start to sense a deeper message within our souls.

The loving voice of Holy Spirit speaks louder than our sadness and softer than our shame. God is calling us to pay attention and seek His help and strength. He longs to rescue us and set us back on a more positive pathway again.

Our desire to feel different, better, stronger assumes a greater urgency than our problems and pain. It cannot easily be ignored. We long for resolution and begin by seeking it in the best place we know: In prayer. From listening to our heart’s deepest needs, we turn our souls Christ-ward and lay these burdens at His feet.

Like an oak

let me be
sturdy, strong, unbending
like an oak tree
rooted deep into the earth
facing storms unperturbed

let me sit
as my heart steadily ticks
and take a deep breath
exhale anxiety and fear
with my burdened soul laid bare

let me stay
this painful course I am on
where life shades to grey
may I still emanate
holy hope, grace and strength

let me lean
and sway so I do not break
nor depend on me
but trust in God’s saving love
when I feel inadequate

let me sink
much deeper into Christ
inhale his strength
spreading faith leaves everywhere
with healing, support and prayer
© joylenton

“To grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion—to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit—that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” – Isaiah 61:3 AMPC – [emphasis added]

You can discover more about the metaphysical meaning of an oak tree here and read about how weakness can coexist with strength here. 🙂 ❤

oak - like an oak tree poem excerpt - let me be sturdy, strong, unbending (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

waves: seeing sacredness in everyday things

“By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.” – Thomas Merton

A holy kind of noticing takes place when we view creation’s glory through a lens of faith and grace. Especially the minor things we might have otherwise overlooked. They begin to stand out for us as portents of promise, signs of beauty and praise, and messages of God’s love and grace. Will you pause a while to appreciate this with me?

waves - clouds - rural landscape - sky - trees - If we are to know life in all its fullness quote @poetryjoy.com

Sacred waves

Oh the calm, calm waves of sky
reaching out to me in scattered, skeined
arms of pale, muted grey cloud

singing out their love, revealing how
the deepest act of devotion
I might be capable of this day, this moment

maybe, is to simply watch and wonder,
pray, and absorb the gift they bring,
give thanks for my life, this offering.

Because here and now are the most
important moments I exist,
in which to sense a holy invitation

to see, touch and taste, to focus on
the divine aspects, the holy,
wholesome sacredness of this

oh so ordinary, fleeting, minor
moment when God chooses
to remind me of his presence,

and then to stretch out my fingertips,
to say yes, I will look, I will listen,
and I will receive your love and grace.

I will take this offering as a sign
of hope, and I will secure
it fast within my insecure heart,

to take out and examine again
on darker days, when light and joy
seem so very far away,

and I will recall the preciousness
of my soul’s brief noticing,
as a harbinger of light and spring.
© joylenton

“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” – Martin Luther

slowed: hope for times when you feel sidelined

“Our rest lies in looking to the Lord, not to ourselves.” – Watchman Nee

Slowed

There have been times when I
wanted to be empowered
and equipped beyond my calling.

In my mind’s eye I have seen
myself doing better and brighter things
by your anointing and grace.

So it challenges and confuses me
when you say: No. Stop. Pause.
Wait. Rest. Not now. Not yet.

Waiting and waiting is hard
on a restless spirit which
longs to just Get On With It!

But to me, and to all whom you
call to come aside and abide,
it is a sacred call to obey.

May I remember this
if my soul resists and my mind
protests it’s ready for more.

Let me bow myself instead
to your greater knowledge
of what I can do for you now.

You alone know how this
life of mine should be shaped
with Holy Spirit’s help.

And only you can grant
all restless, fidgety souls
the ability to lean closer still.

Would you do that here, now,
in times of anxiety or haste,
so we follow your purpose and ways?

Would you help us to see how
moments of silent, small and slow
enable us to learn and grow?
© joylenton

Most of us hate having to slow down, so we either wait until we crash or we keep plodding on until exhaustion or illness forces us to stop and slow down. Then we itch to return to whatever we were engaged in before we paused. Or is that just me?

slowed - tree - branches - leaves - Instead of feeling sidelined quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

But what if we could look at it differently? Instead of feeling sidelined, we could try to view slowed down time as an invitation to rest and abide with Christ. Maybe God just wants YOU for now, your attentive presence, not what you can do for Him.

Because He values our attention and companionship above our activities and To Do list. Spending quality time with God is never a waste, rather, it’s a way to become refreshed for what lies ahead.

“God’s love is based on nothing, and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure. Were it based on anything we do, and that ‘anything’ were to collapse, then God’s love would crumble as well. But with the God of Jesus no such thing can possibly happen. People who realize this can live freely and to the full.” ― Brennan Manning, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus

slowed - Would you help us to see how quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

nature: its ability to calm and heal our souls

nature - its ability to calm and heal our souls - robin on grass (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Few sights are as cheering to winter-weary hearts than spotting a red-breasted robin in the garden. They are welcome visitors who cannot help but make us smile because of their lively hue and perky hopping.

In the English countryside, robins feature heavily in our sightings for large parts of the year. They’ve also inspired today’s poem, which was prompted by thoughts of my daughter-in-law.

She’s a keen gardener who often finds solace (and a necessary distraction from her busy business life) when she’s outside, getting her hands dirty with tasks. Being in touch with living plants helps shift vestiges of SAD-induced sadness in her heart.

The robin

Water-logged and rimed with frost,
sodden leaves get trodden underfoot
as she makes her way across
the uneven garden path.

Her heart sinks as low as her boots
as she contemplates the work
before her—clearing cluttered ground,
preparing for winter to fully come.

As her spade sinks in, she glances
up and sees a robin hopping
around, close by but no longer
shy or uncertain, more a bold thing.

She smiles at her avian
companion, who had graced
the garden in summertime
with brief glimpses now and then.

No longer intent on nest building
or family, she hops contentedly,
pausing to check on her human
friend who she converses with.

Maybe this is no coincidence
in these colder months, with their
depressing, darkening days and drizzle,
that she would appear by chance.

Perhaps there’s hidden symbolism
here, as her furry friend is known
to signal spiritual rebirth,
the new, divine, and the next.

Work stops for now as her mind
follows that thought, making space
for a sign from God to lift her
heart in these chilly wintry months.
© joylenton

We each try to find a way to help alleviate the darkness that can inhabit our hearts. Sometimes, just reading about nature helps. I’m dipping into ‘The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us – A Diary’ by Emma Mitchell and finding it comforting.

I know I feel so much better when I can get outside, even briefly, and surround myself with nature’s natural sedative, calming effects, instead of sitting indoors brooding about my problems.

nature - countryside - grass - sky - trees - natural sedative effects quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Also, looking out the window or watching nature programmes is enough to temporarily plug the “craving to be outside” gap which M.E and chronic illness tend to leave in their wake.

While many of us in the northern hemisphere struggle with wintry ills and chills, may we aim to encourage ourselves with remembrance of God’s faithfulness to us in the past. Let’s keep signs of spring and flames of hope alive in our hearts. Because that’s how we survive and thrive during hard times.

May listening to this robin singing help make you smile, and give you hope that winter’s grip on your environment  or mind will ease soon. 🙂

How have you experienced nature’s calming or healing effects? Do share in the comments below... ❤

nature - robin on a fence - Let’s keep signs of spring quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com